By Cassandra Devereaux
Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler was born in 1918 in the vicinity of Denver, Colorado. In his boyhood, he delivered Liberty Magazine, which was subtitled, “A Magazine for Everyone”. Without noting the irony of this, it printed a sensationalized serial novel that depicted a takeover of the United States by villainous ‘race-mixing’ Bolsheviks. Butler was enthralled by this story. He went on to study aeronautical engineering in college, then took a job with a company that sent him to British occupied India to overhaul military aircraft. He was assigned a valet who described his understanding of the caste system of the British colony as a system of racial purity, which left an impression on young Butler. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in the U.S. colony of Hawaii, Butler enlisted in the Army Air Corps where he taught hydraulics as they relate to aircraft. While he signed on to fight Japan, he fell in love with another member nation of the Anti-Comintern Pact, known in the U.K. and U.S. spheres of influence as the Axis powers.
Butler adored and idolized Hitler and his white supremacy, fascism, and anti-communism. About Hitler and his Third Reich, Butler said decades later,
“In the newsreels of the day, I was thrilled to see the movies of the marching Germans. In those days, all we knew was that Hitler hated communists, and so did my folks — as we did.”
After the war, Butler became an enthusiastic supporter of Senator McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunts, and the House Un-American Activities Committee’s virulent anti-communism. He donated to Senator Joe McCarthy’s campaign, and joined the California Committee to Combat Communism. For the latter, he hoped to root out communist educators. The attacks on educators and education we see today is nothing new. Today, as then, this was done in the name of fighting communism.
Slithering through the years in and out of explicitly anti-semitic, racist, homophobic, transphobic church congregations and organizations, he was hired in ‘68 by military contractor Lockheed-Martin. In time, he co-invented a tire repair system, netting him a sizable sum and allowing him to retire at the age of 55. This money allowed him to buy a farm on the shore of Hayden Lake in vastly white Idaho, seven miles outside Coeur d’Alene. Butler was ready to indulge his fascist fantasies and bring into the world a twisted vision.
From his land he started a self-described ‘Christian Posse Comitatus’, referencing the infamous armed, violent far-right organization. By 1977 his project had developed into the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, more famously known as the neo-nazi Aryan Nations. His land was now a compound of armed and dedicated militant neo-Nazis.
Two years later, the Greensboro Massacre became a turning point in the modern far right. A group of communist anti-racists came to a majority Black housing project in Greensboro, North Carolina. A cadre of armed Klansmen and Nazis descended upon them in force and fired upon them, killing 5 and injuring 10 more. National media was there to capture the scene, yet uniformed police were nowhere to be found. Certainly no cops intervened. Still, due to popular pressure they were apprehended quickly and although the bloodbath was captured on camera, they were handily acquitted by all white juries. To describe the white nationalist movement as giddy was an understatement. Until the massacre, white supremacist formations had been distrustful of each other. The ultranationalist Klan, with leadership that lived through the WWII years, saw Nazis as enemies to the United States. After Greensboro, they saw each other as natural allies, and Butler saw an opportunity to unite them.
The Greensboro Massacre happened in November of 1979. In 1981, Aryan Nations hosted the first of what would become regular ‘Aryan World Conferences’, a summit where the elite of the white supremacy movement would gather, including Louis Beam. Beam founded the organization White Aryan Resistance or W.A.R. He communicated with and inspired murderers and terrorists including Timothy McVeigh and Dylann Roof, and is sometimes described as the father of modern white nationalism. Other attendees would include several former klansmen. Don Black, who created the Stormfront internet forum, was there. Racist lawyer Kirk Lyons, who defends extremists and was married at the compound, attended as well. From this compound, Butler mentored Robert J. Matthews who founded terrorist group ‘The Order.’ The Order killed Jewish radio host Alan Berg and they stole $3.6 million from an armored car to launch a race war. Fourteen attendees to the 1983 congress would be indicted for conspiracy to commit murder and sedition in a plan birthed there but were acquited- the reason offered being a lack of evidence. Aryan Nations also had a successful outreach into prisons, and hosted a concert featuring skinhead bands from the ‘Rock Against Communism’ movement to celebrate Hitler’s birthday.
And then, there was the violence. Followers committed murderers and shootings. A former guard on the compound shot 70 rounds into a Jewish community center and murdered a Filipino letter carrier on the scene. Shootings and murders were commonplace for Aryan Nations members for decades. In the end, this doomed them. Victoria Keenan and her son Jason, members of the Cherokee nation, were headed home from a wedding. On the way home, they stopped their ‘77 Datsun by the Aryan Nation compound after something fell off the car. They retrieved the item, and when they restarted the car, it backfired. Thinking the sound was gunfire, three guards of the compound opened fire, and when the Keenans fled they chased and shot at them. Their car was run into a ditch. One guard grabbed Ms. Keenan by the hair and pressed a gun to her head. She was saved when another car approached. The guards fled after giving a Nazi salute.
After the incident, the Keenans sued Aryan Nations and won a $6.3 million settlement, bankrupting Butler and his fascist organization. In 2000, the compound was bought and the buildings destroyed. Some structures were torn down by heavy machinery, others burned in a firefighter training exercise. Poor, working class, and oppressed peoples hailed the victory and optimistically saw this as a turning point for Coeur d’Alene and Idaho. Of course, dissolving an organization doesn’t dismantle an ideology. The former members, and the white nationalist movements of the United States, weren’t going to concede their capitol of hate in Coeur d’Alene, nor the Pacific Northwest for which they had a perverse vision.